Courtney visits The Arc Eastern Connecticut's employment transition center in Groton

Groton — Bakers at The Arc Eastern Connecticut's Employment Transition Center on Monday morning busily lined up ingredients to be mixed together to make cookie dough, prepared trays of cookie dough and packaged Classic Crunch Chocolate Chip Cookies to later be sold at area stores.

"It smells good in here," remarked U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who was visiting the facility on Sacred Heart Drive.

Kathleen Stauffer, chief executive officer of The Arc Eastern Connecticut, a full-service agency that prepares people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) for the workplace, told Courtney that when there was a chance to bring a lesser cookie to market that costs less, the staff said that they learned from her to commit to excellence and if they don't bring the best cookie to market, then they're not doing their job.

"Really that's the whole point: if I have IDD and you think I'm capable of less, but I just made the best cookie you've ever eaten, then your view of my ability is forever changed," she said.

The emphasis of all of The Arc Eastern Connecticut's micro-businesses, which include cookie baking, a farm stand, cleaning, landscaping, a thrift shop and recycling, is product quality, she said.

"And it's amazing what that does for people’s self-esteem," Stauffer said.

She noted that people's view of themselves have changed when they are involved with a real job. She said they become more verbal and social and have gone out into the community to achieve their work goals.

Stauffer said that while the law allows for paying a subminimum wage for job training, the Board of Directors of the Arc Eastern Connecticut believes that it’s a dignity issue and that every person wanting to work should have the right to work at a job they enjoy and succeed while earning minimum wage or more, she said.

The Arc created the micro-businesses to train people with IDD for competitive employment while not only paying them a minimum wage but ensuring they and the staff training them are working under real market conditions and with an economic platform that’s reflective of the community.

She said the goal is to make all the micro-businesses profitable within three years and roll them into limited liability companies and create a model that can be replicated. She said it's important for them to be sustainable and to have an authentic operational training model and an authentic for profit business model.

Courtney's visit comes after The Arc New London County and The Arc Quinebaug Valley merged into The Arc Eastern Connecticut in January.

"All the benefits of the merger really seem to be falling into place in terms of efficiencies that help precious dollars go to clients as opposed to overhead," said Courtney, whose office helped The Arc secure a $62,000 grant for the merger. 

"Also it’s just a very innovative leadership here in terms of trying to create new opportunities for their clients with a real clear-eyed business sense," he added.

k.drelich@theday.com

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